As recently as July this year, Brazilian superstar Neymarʼs mooted transfer from Barcelona to Paris Saint-Germain looked impossible. Aside from his allegiance with the Catalan club and that lethal partnership with Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez, there was also the matter of a £198 million price tag on his head, a clear sign that Neymar was not for sale. But PSG made the impossible possible and Neymar is now the most expensive footballer of all time. Good move or bad?
Neymar has been occupying headlines across the globe since late July, when his move to France first started to look like a distinct possibility. Every single move, every glance, smile or appearance has caused a media frenzy. And that was before he ever took the field in his new PSG jersey!
The scale of Neymar’s move and the fees involved have since become almost meaningless, simply because they have departed the realm of rational logic. The £198 million fee, which was paid by PSG by cheque, more than doubled the previous £89.3 million world record transfer fee paid by Manchester United for Paul Pogba 12 months ago.
Neymar has repeatedly remarked that his move was not for the money, although it’s hard to take him seriously given that he is now football’s top earner with a salary of £520,000 each week! His father Neymar Sr – who has guided his son’s every step – also earned more than £40 million for brokering the deal.
Over the last decade, transfer fees for world class players have remained fairly stagnant. In 2009, Cristiano Ronaldo moved from Manchester United to Real Madrid for £80 million, a world record at that time. Four years later, Gareth Bale broke the record by £6 million, a small step forward. In 2016, one of the richest football clubs in the world broke the record again by recruiting Pogba.
Until Neymar, it seemed the next barrier to be crept past would be £90 million. Nobody anticipated a club smashing past £190 million instead! PSG simply rendered the cautious spending of their European rivals obsolete.
Last summer, PSG tried everything to lure Neymar to Paris, hoping he would replace the Manchester United-bound Zlatan Ibrahimovic and establish a truly iconic figure for the rich club. At the time, Neymar used those negotiations to sign a vastly improved five-year deal with the Catalan club.
That didn’t stop Neymar’s camp picking up the phone to PSG once again this time around, informing the club’s owners that a move away from the Nou Camp was still on the table. The deal has cost PSG’s rich owners almost £200 million, but as Chairman Nasser Al-Khelaifi stated, simply signing Neymar has added about $500 million to the value of the club.
As to Neymar himself, opinions are divided on the future of his career. Some have argued that leaving Barcelona – a true footballing giant whose football philosophy matched with him perfectly – to a club whose Champions League claims remain dubious is a terrible career decision.
Yet there is one image others believe was at the heart of Neymar’s decision. After Barcelona completed its historic comeback to beat PSG in the Champions League in March, having trailed 4-0 after the first leg, match photographer Santiago Garcés took a shot of Messi, who leapt onto the advertising boards at the north end of Camp Nou, arms stretched to welcome the mobbing fans.
But the true hero that night? Neymar. He curled in a super free-kick, won and took a penalty and provided the delivery for Sergi Roberto to score the decisive goal at the death. Three goals were scored in seven minutes and 17 seconds, but Messi stole the limelight. Asked about Messi’s future after the match, Neymar replied coldly, “I think Messi will stay.”
Not Neymar. He chose a new challenge and, ultimately, whether money was his motivation or not doesn’t matter.
Now leaving the shadow of Messi behind, Neymar, at the age of 25, will be the central man at PSG, leading the line with world class players there to support him.
When a young and ambitious man like Neymar is born into this crazy age, anything can happen. And it shows just how much the football world has changed, from the halfmillion dollar man Johan Cruyff to this staggering new transfer record – an explosion as transformational as the Big Bang!